Attorneys general announce probe into the NFL over workplace harassment, citing numerous complaints from women

May 4, 2023 – An investigation has been launched into allegations of employment discrimination and a hostile work environment at the National Football League (NFL), according to a joint statement from New York Attorney General Letitia James and California Attorney General Rob Bonta.

It comes just over a year since the NFL was warned by a coalition of six attorneys general to take “swift action” to improve conditions for female employees.

In a statement Thursday, the attorneys general of New York and California said the joint investigation will “examine the workplace culture of the NFL and allegations made by former employees, including potential violations of federal and state pay equity laws and anti-discrimination laws.” It said the NFL has offices in New York and California with more than 1,000 employees.

The attorneys general on Thursday issued subpoenas to the NFL seeking relevant information, the statement said.

“No person should ever have to endure harassment, discrimination, or objectification in the workplace,” said NY Attorney General James. “No matter how powerful or influential, no institution is above the law, and we will ensure the NFL is held accountable.”

“California will not tolerate any form of discrimination,” California Attorney General Bonta said. “We have serious concerns about the NFL’s role in creating an extremely hostile and detrimental work environment. No company is too big or popular to avoid being held responsible for their actions.”

In a statement to CNN on Thursday, the NFL said the allegations are “entirely inconsistent” with the league’s values and practices.

“The NFL offices are places where employees of all genders, races and backgrounds thrive. We do not tolerate discrimination in any form,” the statement added.

“The NFL is committed to ensuring all employees of the league are respected, treated fairly, and have equitable pay and access to developmental opportunities. Our policies are intended not only to comply with all applicable laws but to foster a workplace free from harassment, intimidation and discrimination.

“We take these matters seriously and will fully cooperate with the attorneys general.”

In Thursday’s statement, Attorneys General James and Bonita cited a New York Times report from February 2022, which detailed more than 30 former female employees alleging gender discrimination and retaliation after they had filed complaints with the NFL’s human resources division.

The Times reported at the time: “They described a stifling, deeply ingrained corporate culture that demoralized some female employees, drove some to quit in frustration and left many feeling brushed aside.”

In April 2022, Attorney General James led a coalition of six attorneys general in sending a letter to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell to express their concerns and to call on the league to address allegations of workplace inequity. Roughly 37% of the 1,100 employees at the NFL are women and 30% are people of color, the letter noted, according to CNN’s reporting.

In a statement to CNN at the time, the NFL said it shares “the commitment of the attorneys general to ensuring that all of our workplaces – including the league office and 32 clubs – are diverse, inclusive and free from discrimination and harassment.”

NFL spokesperson Brian McCarthy told CNN in April 2022 that the organization had “made great strides” over the years but acknowledged that it, like many organizations, “has more work to do.”

There was a lawsuit filed in recent weeks in Los Angeles Superior Court where a former female manager filed an employment discrimination lawsuit, alleging age, sex and gender discrimination and a hostile work environment, the attorneys general statement said. They said additional lawsuits filed against the NFL pertain to race discrimination targeting a Black female employee and sexual harassment of a female wardrobe stylist, among others.

The attorneys general said Thursday: “Reports that the NFL has not taken sufficient effective steps to prevent discrimination, harassment and retaliation from occurring in the workplace persist.”

The statement added: “Attorney General James and Attorney General Bonta are exercising their legal authority to seek information from the NFL regarding allegations of gender pay disparities in compensation, harassment, and gender and race discrimination.”

By Samantha Beech and Kara Scannell, CNN
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